Stay Flat!

Some of my least favorite conversations start like this.

“What’s the matter?”

“Nothing.”

“I can tell something is bothering you. What’s wrong?”

Like a ping pong match, this exchange can go for a while until one or the other person breaks down and tells why they are angry/hurt/upset/worried/sad etc.  Most of the time it is pretty easy to “read” the people we are close to and we know when to start this conversation.

But we know how to hide, how to pretend, how to dissemble, and how to divert attention from what is really going on with us to some other meaningless thing.  God knows we do this and that we like to think we are pretty good at it.  When Adam and Eve were hiding in that garden He knew where they were and why they were hiding but He asked, “Where are you?” It was similar to asking them, “What’s the matter?”

We may be able to hide from one another but we cannot hide from God.  In chapter 5 of the book of Numbers God has some interesting instructions about revealing some things that could easily be kept hidden.

Leprosy – cannot be in the camp where God is; a person having leprosy must be put out of the camp.  Leprosy often begins with a  visible sore or white patch on the skin and it would it be easy to keep it hidden for a while.

Wrong another person – the offender must confess their sin and make proper restitution. But what if the wrong is not such a big deal or the person offended cannot be found?   “No one will ever know”  This is not an acceptable excuse, we know we did it and so does God.  No procrastination either, do it right away before you “forget”.

Suspected adultery – a husband suspects his wife may have committed adultery but has no proof. (And yes, sorry ladies, a woman suspecting her husband did not have this same recourse and yes, this does not seem fair.)  The husband must take her to the priest, he is not to nag her with accusations and because there are no witnesses she cannot be stoned to death. (The penalty for adultery Leviticus 20:10).  Now it gets really interesting, the priest prepares bitter water for her to drink (water with dust from the ground mixed in)  and the priest makes this pronouncement,

the Lord make you a curse and an oath among your people by the Lord’s making your thigh waste away and your abdomen swell; and this water that brings a curse shall go into your stomach, and make your abdomen swell and your thigh waste away.” And the woman shall say, “Amen. Amen.”

There was really nothing special or “magical” in the water, the priest and woman were agreeing that God would judge her.  If she had committed adultery, she would become barren – unable to bear children, her sin would be exposed.

This is one of those parts of the Bible that makes me look up to God and say, “Huh?  I don’t think I really get all this, God.”  And I “hear” God say, “That’s ok, I am glad you are working on it, you don’t have to understand every word of my Word but what do you get?”

And here are two things that seem very clear:

  • Sin spreads, like leprosy, it will not go away and must be dealt with or it may “infect” others.  Once I have taken one apple from my neighbors orchard it becomes much easier to take two or three the next time,  “Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile.”
  • God expects His people to be holy as He is holy.  To be honest in all our dealings with one another.  To be honest with Him, to confess our sin, apologize to those we have hurt, to make restitution if necessary, to honor our marriage vows with our faithfulness.  To be pure and holy is a process, it begins on the outside with cleaning up the obvious sin in our lives, whatever that is, drinking, bad language, etc.  Then we are to move on the deeper levels, being honest in all of our dealings with each other and finally to honesty in our closest, most intimate relationship – our marriages.

Jon Courson (Jon Courson’s Application Commentary, Old Testament, Volume 1) writing on the woman accused of adultery in this passage says that her swollen belly indicates her inner turmoil and her rotten (wasted) thigh represents an inability to walk spiritually.  A swollen belly and a painful leg make it difficult to walk (ask anyone who is 8 – 9 months pregnant!)  A pure life brings inner peace and a strong walk with the Lord.  How do you get that?  Admit your sin to God, ask Him to forgive you, believe that Jesus died for you, accept Jesus’ gift of salvation.  So, keep your belly flat and your legs strong!

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Assigned Parking

“Anything you can do I can do better.  I can do anything better than you.”

Some of you might recognize these lines as song lyrics written by Irving Berlin from the musical, “Annie Get Your Gun”.  The song is a musical duel between the competitive leads, Annie Oakley and Frank Butler.  The words are all too true, no matter how good you are or think you are, someone is always better.  Competition can be energizing, it causes some people to work or train harder, to study or practice more, to do whatever it takes to be the best.  Competition can be discouraging, someone will get a higher score than you, someone else can do what you do faster, better, easier and it can make you think it is just not worth the effort.

When I started to blog I discovered an important aspect was connecting with other bloggers, reading what others were writing and thinking, commenting on other blogs and receiving comments on my own posts; this is a part of blogging I am enjoying very much.

It did not take long to discover that some of the people blogging are really, REALLY GOOD!  Way way better than me at expressing themselves and their posts are really REALLY informative, thought-provoking and helpful!  Reading and following these accomplished and gifted people make it easy to allow discouragement to overshadow the inexplicable urge to write and continue blogging.  So you cannot imagine how happy I am to be reading the book of Numbers in my Bible.

Now if you have ever read the book of Numbers it is not exactly the most exciting book in the Bible!  it is one of the first five books of the Bible or the Pentateuch.  Numbers begins with God instructing Moses to take a census of the nation of Israel and counting people and things is the predominate activity in the first 7 chapters – maybe exciting to an accountant but not so much for the rest of us.  But the Bible is full of truth and treasure and in chapter 2 God had a gem for me and for anyone else feeling over-looked and discouraged.

Now the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, “The sons of Israel shall camp, each by his own standard, with the banners of their fathers’ households; they shall camp around the tent of meeting at a distance.” 

In the books prior to Numbers, God had given detailed instructions to the Israelites about His tabernacle, His laws and how He is to be worshipped.  Now He gives them very specific camping instructions; who is to camp where.  God tells Moses which tribes are to camp to the north, south east and west of the tabernacle, who is assigned as the leader of each tribe, and, He repeats the number of men (the census totals) for each tribe.  God assigns each one their parking space.  No one is omitted, everyone knows where they need to go and everyone has a specific spot.

I love what I see about God here:

  • God is a God of order and not chaos.
  • God is not random or capricious.
  • God  has a perfect plan.
  • God has an assigned place for everyone.

Yep, I may not be the best blogger or whatever else I attempt, but God has a plan, a purpose and a place that I only I can fill and He has the same for you!  My challenge and encouragement to myself and to you is to keep on keeping on; whatever God is calling you to do and wherever you are – hang in there and don’t stop.  Do it to the best of your ability, ignore the “competition”, and keep putting one foot, or keystroke, in front of the other.  God’s got me an assigned parking spot, it is right where it needs to be and I’m parking there!

Follow Me?

We’ve all done it, in spite of our best efforts to seem wise and intelligent, to act like a good citizen, a generous and caring human being; we have done something foolish, ignorant, stupid, illegal or downright mean and selfish.  Many days I feel like I get more wrong than right; it is discouraging, embarrassing and tiring.  The worst part of my missteps, mistakes and sins is that someone is watching – someone is always watching and in our world, the video can capture these charming moments and play them back for all to see – oh joy!

In 1 Corinthians 1:18, Paul says, “Be imitators of me just as I am also of Christ.”  Am I, as Paul was, willing to be used, to present myself as an example for others to follow?  The answer is willing or not, someone is probably imitating me and following my example.

Like it or not, someone is watching, someone is using me as an example to follow or a warning to avoid.  No pressure but my actions or inactions, my words and my silence are all demonstrating my faith to my observant audience.  If I truly believe God, my actions will agree with His Words and my words will be His and when I fail (guaranteed) I must be quick to confess and repent to God and apologize to the person I have offended or hurt.  This is a high and exacting standard; it is a life lived with integrity, honor and purity – the life of a Christ follower.

Am I following Christ so closely that I am willing to say to others, “Imitate me.”   What will I be – an example or a warning?  I pray God transforms me into a woman worth imitating and my example points the way to Jesus and if I serve as a warning, oh well, don’t do that!

Audience of One

Picture the one person in the world you really wish were reading your blog.  Write him or her a letter.

Hello!  I cannot describe how happy it makes me that you are finally reading my blog!  You are an answer to my prayer.  Ever think of yourself that way?  How have I prayed for you?  Like this: every time I sit down to blog, I pray, “Oh God, help my words be an encouragement to someone today.  Lord, please let someone find truth in my words.  Help me be accurate when I share your words, God.  Help the reader see you and not me.”  Easy, takes about a minute and look – God heard, God answered, you showed up!

I think a short explanation is needed here since I have mentioned God a couple of times already.  When I refer to God with a capital ‘G” as I do often, I am talking about the God of the Bible, that is the God I believe in, the only one true God, the God who created all things, the God of three persons, Father, Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit.  I believe God divinely inspired men to write the Bible and the Bible is literally true from beginning to end and is just as relevant, useful and applicable today as the day it was written.

I’ll bet you are now doing one of the following:  You are shouting “Amen” because you agree with me, or you have been considering the possibility that what I just said is true and want to know more, or, you have already clicked away to another blog, to Facebook or BuzzFeed and are no longer reading, sorry, bye bye!  How can I be so sure about that?  Mentioning God and the Bible always causes a reaction!

If you are in the first group, welcome.  You might want to read some of my other blog posts about the lessons God has been teaching me as I read and study His Word; I hope you find them a blessing and encouragement!

If you are in the third and last group listed I doubt you are still reading but just in case you are…I do not seek to defend the Bible, God, Jesus or any other Christian beliefs, doctrine or theology in my blog; there are a lot of others out there who do that far better than I can, it is not my gift.  I can tell you with confidence that Jesus changed my life and I trust Him absolutely and completely.  I suggest you read the Bible for yourself, asking God to reveal Himself and to give you understanding of His Word; it worked for me, it can work for you.

Finally, you in the second group, the person who may be wondering if God is real, if He cares, if the Bible is true.  I can assure you that God is very real and proof is all around you.  As you are reading, think about your eyes; as you developed in your mother’s womb how did the eye cells know to become eye cells – what caused each part of your body to develop in it’s own unique way and for it’s own purpose.  Your DNA is yours alone, it is complex beyond human imagining, design or accident; it is not too complex for God.  The fact that you are willing to consider the possibility of God is proof of His existence, as humans we seek a reason, an explanation for our lives, for our world, for the flow of events.  Every culture in every age worships some form of god or gods – we are worshipper’s and we all seek to worship something or someone – I choose God.

Does God care about you and how can you know for sure?  Look at Jesus.  He was either insane, a liar or the Son of God as He claimed – there are no other possibilities.  If he was insane and/or a liar, millions of people have followed Him and His teachings for centuries, thousands of His follower’s have died and are dying today rather than deny Him.  He died for the sins of the whole world, He died so we could have eternal life, He died to save you and me and anyone else who believes in him.  Would you die to save someone’s life?   I like to think I would die to save the life of one of my kids or my husband, or a good friend but would I die to save a murderer, a pedophile, a horrible dictator?  Honestly, I don’t think so but Jesus did.  Anyone asking forgiveness, giving their life to Jesus can be saved and Jesus died for all, the good and the bad, just like He died for you and for me – the salvation Jesus died to obtain for us is a free gift to anyone and everyone who believes.  Does God care?  Look at Jesus.

Is the Bible true?  The Bible has been attacked, banned, mocked, burned, analyzed, revised and still it stands.  Written over a span of 1500 years by 40 different men; it has one central character and theme, Jesus and Redemption – an amazing accomplishment.  Have you picked up a Bible and started reading and then given up after a few pages?  If you did you are in the majority. No one who is a fan of the Lord of The Rings trilogy would suggest that you pick up any of those three books, open to a random page and start reading and you will have an understanding of the whole story but people do this with the Bible all the time!  I suggest you read the Bible and read it very differently.  First, get an easy to read version like the New International Version (and there are free Bibles and Bible apps you can download and read online).  Start in the New Testament, specifically the Gospel of John (the 4th book in the NT).  Read a bit and stop, talk to God about what you just read.  If you don’t understand it, ask God to help you.  If you don’t see how it applies to you, ask God to show how.  Don’t try to read it all at once, keep reading in small chunks every day and keep reading from the left to the right – don’t skip around – and don’t give up; stay in John until you finish it; you will be amazed at what God shows you.

I hope you will keep reading my blog and I hope it helps you.  My purpose is to share the lessons and the encouragement I receive as I read the Bible.  I have been reading and studying for over 20 years, I have learned a lot and know God has a much more to teach me.  He has been patient and faithful with me and I know He will be with you.

I often say that you can have a shelf full of great cookbooks and you can watch the Food Network faithfully, but if you want to learn to cook you have to grab some ingredients, pick up a pot and get cooking.  Learning about God is like that, decide to trust Him and His Word, start reading and start obeying what He shows you.  If you take that one single and simple step towards God, He will take the other 99 to get to you!  Just do it!

With more prayers and a few Bible verses for you, B.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16, 17

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1

But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. Deuteronomy 4:29

Audience of One

First Sentence from Favorite Book

Hapscomb’s Texaco sat on US 93 just north of Arnette, a pissant, four-street burg about 110 miles from Houston. Swerving off the road, the car kicked up a spray of gravel and cloud of dust.

“Man, I hope this dump is open, I gotta go so bad my teeth are floatin’”, she said.

“Yeah, me too! This is the first place we’ve seen for miles.”

I jammed on the brakes and parked next to the gas pumps.  We both flung open the car doors and bolted into Hapscomb’s small convenience store/office.

“Key to the rest room, please!”

The man perched on a stool behind the counter didn’t move. He probably thought we were crazy, we both said the same thing so fast.  He just stared at us, stoic, silent, unresponsive.  I spotted a key attached to an old license plate hanging on the wall so I grabbed it and we sprinted around to the side of the building.

As I walked back to my car, I stopped to stretch and take a deep breath. The air was hot and dry. Everything was covered with a fine coating of sandy dust, and was the same, flat non-color – sand. The longer I stood there, the quieter it seemed, the only sound was the soft sigh of the wind. If it is true that your first impression is the most important Arnette was in serious trouble; my first impression of was not good.

There were no other cars on the road and the single traffic light swung slowly back in forth in the dusty air; blinking yellow. The man working at the station must spend a lot of time in one place because he too had a thin film of dust on his clothes, his hair and his shoes; even the day old stubble on his chin was dusty. At least he had moved off his perch, he was leaning in the doorway, hands jammed into his pockets, silent, watching and I could see he was much younger than I first thought, probably in his twenties.

“Anyplace to get some lunch around here?” I asked him.

He blinked a few times, his eyes moving from us, to our car, to the road and back to us. I was ready to poke him with my foot to see if he was still breathing and trying to remember some sign language in case he was deaf. Finally, he said, “McDonalds down the highway ‘bout 47 mile.”

“47 miles! Isn’t there anything closer?”

“Well, Buddy’s is open until 2. Just keep goin’ into town, it’s right over on the left there.”

We looked at each other and shrugged. “Guess that’s our only option”, she said.

We gassed up the car and headed into town, looking for Buddy’s.

“There it is”, I said.

Buddy’s sign, like everything else in sight was faded and dusty.   I pulled in next to a couple of pick-up trucks and a dusty motorcycle. There were some customers inside. I could see them through the window so I knew the place was open. They all turned to look as we parked. They watched us get out of the car. They continued to stare as we walked towards the door.

“No need to lock it”, I laughed. “Nothing much going on around here.”

That decision would turn out to be the biggest mistake of my life.

(This story is in response to The Daily Prompt for January 10, 2015.  Take the first sentence of a favorite book and make it the first sentence of a post.  My sentence is the first line in one of my many favorites, The Stand by Stephen King.)

Call Me Ishmael

Empty Excuses

“No, I didn’t do that!”

“That is not true.”

“Yes, but do you know what they did/said?”

“I promise I won’t do it again.”

“I only did that once!”

“Let me tell you what really happened.”

“Things are really hard for me right now.”

I sat listening to a steady stream of excuses, justifications and blame. After a few moments I tuned it all out because it was just the same old same old repeated over and over with minor variations.

When the conversation finally ended, the person who had been in the “hot seat” left, clutching the tattered shreds of their delusion that somehow, they were believed. The lies they had told to others, the lies they clung to about themselves were so deep, they were convinced their pride and dignity was still intact. They were wrong. I was not the only one listening to this conversation and all of us knew the truth. The person making the excuses was being dishonest. The excuses were exactly that, lame excuses and there was no legitimate justification for any of the foolish and disrespectful actions. Only one person was to blame.

As this pitiful conversation was drawn to a close I felt amused, disgusted, ashamed, saddened, angered and finally, deeply convicted. I began to consider the hours of precious life wasted; how “Satan fascinates and then assassinates” to quote my dear friend, Debbie. This person was caught in a web of lies and deceptions that took years to construct; the wasted potential for good, for creativity, for happiness made me sad and angry.   A lack of personal responsibility, for “owning” your decisions, for blaming others disgusts me; the “victim mentality” so prevalent in our world is a big lie from the pit. Yes, I do understand that bad things can happen to people through no fault of their own, some people are truly victims but let’s face it if I eat candy bars all day every day and all my teeth fall out and I balloon up to 700 lbs. it is not the fault of the candy company – take responsibility for your decisions people!

I began to see this person as God does and realized how often I make excuses for my own sinful choices that sound exactly the same as the excuses, justifications and blame I had overheard. How God must hate listening to my ridiculous statements: “He made me so angry. “ “She hurt my feelings.” “I would do ______ better if I didn’t have this problem right now.” “I will start tomorrow/I will never do that again!” And so on and so forth the excuses march on.

God, forgive me. Help me to be a worshipper in Spirit and in TRUTH, to be honest in my confession, to take responsibility for my own actions, to compare myself only to you and not to others. Remind me to pray for this person, for their freedom from lies and for their salvation; show me the lies I believe. Help me stay dependent on you, not making empty promises to do things on my own strength but drawing on your power and the Holy Spirit to transform me from the inside out.

No Little Adults

All kids go through stages of asking the question, “Why?”  On occasion, kids ask because they genuinely want an answer to something they do not understand.  Lots of the time I think kids ask to see their parents give long elaborate answers – a diabolical form of kid entertainment.  Parents, trust me, they are not listening and don’t care!  Once your cuties,  hit the teen years they usually only ask the “why” question in response to some parental ruling they disagree with – they are looking for an argument, they have reached the pinnacle of the puppet-master years and love to make parents tap dance.

In parenting my own kids, I was a big proponent of the 1 2 3 Magic system of parenting taught by Dr. Thomas Phelan, Ph.D.  One thing he teaches is that parents have a faulty assumption about kids; Phelan calls it “The Little Adult” Assumption.   I see parents doing this all the time, especially when little Seymour is having a major melt-down in the candy aisle.  Parents assume kids are just small adults who will respond to logical explanations so parents attempt to talk and reason with their disobedient darlings.  Wrong!  Kids are crazy monsters and no amount of reasonable and logical explanation and discussion will convince them to obey.  You go, Dr. Phelan – preach it!

In the book of Leviticus, God is giving Moses His instructions for life and worship and in chapters 19 and 20 God shares His reasons for these instructions not once or twice but 20 times in some variation:

  • You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy.
  • I am the Lord your God.
  • I am the Lord.

God knows that He is giving these instructions to children, the Israelites needed to be taught who God was as well as His expectations for them.  I am just as child-like as the Israelites, I need to be taught how to worship, taught who God is, taught how to be holy.  I am even more inclined to ask, “Why?” than the Israelites since I live in the age where knowledge without wisdom and science is god (small ‘g’, god) and in a democratic world where self-determination, self-motivation, self-satisfaction and Self is idolized.  God, demonstrating His perfect parenting skills and avoiding “The Little Adult Assumption”, is not obligated to explain Himself or His rules and He expects obedience.  Life is not “all about me” but all about God.

God’s answer when I am tempted?  “You shall be holy for I the Lord am holy.”

God’s answer when I want to disobey? “I am the Lord your God.”

God’s answer when I defiantly rebel? “I am the Lord.”

No other answer, no other explanation is needed.  To live a life of holiness and true worship, obey God; simple but not easy.

Heart Work

Done!!  Just finished writing thank you notes for some of the gifts I received this Christmas.  The gifts themselves were small things, inexpensive items but quite unexpected; from residents of the apartment complex where I work.  Actually, I am always surprised when anyone gives me a gift, even on those occasions like Christmas when gift exchange is expected, I am surprised at the thoughtfulness of the people in my life.  Of the Five Love Languages, Gifts is not one of mine so getting a gift, especially from someone I hardly know is very surprising to me.  I enjoy giving gifts if I get an inspiration or see something I know is perfect for the recipient, otherwise giving becomes more of a chore since I am not a big fan of shopping malls or stores.

Recently, I was challenged to think about the gift Jesus would like from me.  What gift do I give to the person who quite literally has everything and already has my heart?  The Book of Leviticus contains verse after verse describing in great detail the who, what, why, where, when and how of God’s commands on sacrifices.  There were times bulls, rams, goats, birds and unleavened bread were to be offered.  Sacrifices must be unblemished and without defect.  Different occasions, sins and situations demanded different sacrifices.  All of this seems so alien and odd in today’s culture and to me; it is difficult to relate to and causes my mind heart and stomach to rebel at the thought of so much blood, work and ritual.

The OT God who demanded this level of sacrifice and dedication has not changed but I am not under the old covenant of law but under the new covenant of grace and since it is the same God some form of sacrifice, of gift, seems appropriate but what?

I found my answer in Romans 12:1.

Therefore I urge you brethren, by the mercies of God to present your bodies, a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.

Myself, God wants me, all of me, my heart and my body, I am to be a living sacrifice.  All the OT sacrifices were dead, killed before being placed on the altar, God wants me to place myself on a symbolic altar and by His strength, to stay there when everything in me is screaming to jump off.  God wants me holy as He is holy, Jesus has covered my sin defects and blemishes, my sacrifice is to remain unblemished but when I do sin (and I will) to quickly confess my sin (blemishes and defects).   All of this process, this life style of sacrifice and awareness that I belong to God and am not my own, is worship.

Worship of God as He is, pure, holy, majestic, awesome, just, righteous, merciful, wise, loving, good, long-suffering, infinite, self-sufficient, omnipotent, omnipresent, eternal.  Worship that no longer follows a ritual or pattern but is from the heart.  Worship is a life lived God’s way, putting God first, others second and myself last.  Worship that only God can inspire and the Holy Spirit enable me to offer.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Jesus.  Here is my gift of worship and here is my open and teachable heart;  I can’t do it without you, so teach me how to be a worshipper, offering my humble and flawed spiritual service to you.